One of the most interesting aspects of keeping a blog is watching a story as it develops over time. Last summer I noticed a distinct change in tone in the reporting and commentary about the Iraq War. As the weather got increasingly hot, commentary on the Iraq War turned gloomy and despairing as more and more writers came to the conclusion that, for all practical purposes, the war was lost. The tipping point, at least in my reading, was Thomas Friedman's August 4, 2006 NYT column "Time for Plan B," which opened, "It is now obvious that we are not midwifing democracy in Iraq. We are baby-sitting a civil war."
Now that the winter has turned bitterly cold and snowy, the punditry is gloomily reading the tea leaves for another disheartening and potentially catastrophic development: a war with Iran. "Scary Movie 2," as Paul Krugman calls the scenario, is based on the premise that whenever George Bush says he isn't planning a war, you can be certain he is. As Karen DeYoung reported in yesterday's Washington Post, "Much as the Vietnam Syndrome dogged the foreign and military policies of a generation of U.S. presidents, the Iraq Syndrome has become an ever-present undercurrent in Washington. 'Everyone is reliving the whole thing again in everything we do,' said one administration official." Determined not to be taken in again, the press openly scoffed at the Pentagon's claims of Iranian meddling in Iraq presented in Monday's strange news conference in Baghdad. A New York Times editorial archly observed, "The extraordinary briefing in the Green Zone pointed a finger but it wavered." Fox News is once again being monitored for credulous reporting, and people are eying The Weekly Standard with renewed trepidation for clues about the demented state of the Neocons.
The origin of the current speculation about an impending war with Iran is Seymour Hersh's January 2005 New Yorker article "The Coming War" about Pentagon planning for an attack on Iran. Last fall there were rumors of an "October surprise" to save the Republican majority in Congress when it was reported that a second aircraft carrier was being dispatched to the Persian Gulf by October 31. That the hurried deployment of the aircraft carrier turned out to be true has only fueled more connect-the-dots reporting on an impending US attack on Iran. Since Monday's Baghdad briefing The Nation has been sounding the alarm bells. Tom Engelhardt purports to say aloud what everyone in the know is saying behind closed doors:
Is there anybody in official Washington--other than our President, Vice President, the Vice President's secretive imperial staff, assorted neocon supporters, and associated right-wing think tanks--who isn't sweating blood, popping pills, and wondering what in the world to do about our delusional leaders?
Engelhardt's breathless warnings about a "bloodcurdling scenario" about to play out in Iran could just be dismissed as another left-wing polemic, and despite his dark warnings about a possible nuclear attack on Iran, Hersh has already reported that that option is off the table. But The Nation was one of the few print media outlets that dared to challenge the assumptions about the build up to the Iraq War, and Engelhardt is only repeating two tropes that currently shape the discussion about Iran: One is the Iraq Syndrome, which could be summed up as "believe the worst when Bush and Cheney are involved." The second trope is the darkest of all: that Bush and Cheney are insane. Adjectives like "kamikaze," "delusional," "beyond delusional," and plain old "crazy" are beginning are beginning to pop up. Cheney's now infamous CNN interview, which prompted Illinois Senator Dick Durbin to call Cheney delusional on the Senate floor, is exhibit one for the case that the Bush administration has lost its mind and is therefore capable of pulling the trigger on Iran. Administration equivocations on the evidence concerning Iranian IED's in Iraq haven't reassured anyone.
I've not yet seen anyone in the press declare we're going to attack Iran. Circumstantial evidence of an impending American attack continues to be documented, but watch for fretting about the metal state of Bush and Cheney in the media, especially toward the political center. One bellwether is Thomas Friedman, and he's still trying to appeal to reason, reminding us Iran "helped the U.S. defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan and replace it with a pro-U.S. elected alliance of moderate Muslims." But if a centrist figure like Friedman starts publishing Maureen Dowd-like columns entitled "Daffy Does Doom," watch for a consensus on the insanity of Bush and Cheney to emerge. At that point, it truly will be a scary movie.